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Reasons why ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ did not talk about mental health

Samantha Woolford, Contributing Writer

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“Thirteen Reasons Why” premiered on Netflix on March 31, and has since amassed many viewers who either love it or hate it. Some are, understandably, upset about the graphic depictions of sexual assault and suicide. However, I find it surprising that people are extremely distraught over the lack of discussion regarding mental health. In my opinion, they are missing the point of the whole show.

The main point of Jay Asher’s book upon which the show is based is about the impacts of bullying. Hannah Baker was cruelly bullied at her school with lies and rumors spread about her being “easy” and a “slut.” As the show progresses, there are more heinous crimes committed, such as rape. These actions in and of themselves are concerning and should be talked about. If the show simply explained Baker’s experiences, and eventual suicide, as a product of a mental health issue, it would undermine the atrocious acts that were committed against her, as well as the events she witnessed.

There are articles claiming that bullying is not murder and that Hannah Baker killed herself, not the kids that bullied her. This is true. It is also true that when a target of bullying commits suicide, the bullies, if identified, are typically charged with felonies. It is not something that we can sweep under the rug in order to make another case all about mental health. We cannot push aside the acts of the bullies and simply label Baker as someone with depression, because that would be the easy answer. If we say she has a mental health issue, then we can deduce that is a potential reason why she killed herself, not because of other people. If you watched the show, it was a lot about listening but also taking responsibility for your actions.

This is not to say that bullies are the direct cause of people committing suicide. There is a correlation, but bullying does not always lead to causation. Even though this is true, getting bullied definitely does not make life easier for a person. It potentially heightens the victim’s lack of self-worth. Maybe bullies do not cause suicide, but they very well may be the last straw. And that is exactly the point of the show—you do not know how what you say or do can affect a person’s life.

“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life,” Asher said in his book.

It should be noted that not all people who attempt suicide are clinically depressed. It was never discussed in the book, and including it in the series would only dilute the essence of the show. Baker might have had a mental health issue, but this was never the point. People are uncomfortable with the notion that they could partially be to blame for something as heinous as suicide, so they want to blame mental health. Bullying is detrimental on a person, and having a mental health issue makes it harder to cope with those societal pressures.

The point is not mental health and it was not even really about suicide. It is about how your words and actions have the ability to change a person’s life, for better or worse.

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The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University
Reasons why ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ did not talk about mental health